Photo By: Robert DeSantos Jr.
This past week has been a whirlwind of emotions.
It’s something I can’t quite put into words, but I want to try.
Somehow I always feel better after I write.
It’s a therapeutic comfort.
I am a pretty private person, especially if I don’t know you well, I tend to keep things to myself.
This blog is a bit of a different outlet for me and even though it’s public, I have deemed it my safe place, and no one can take that away from me.
So when my family was informed that my Grandma wasn’t doing well, it was difficult for me to know how to handle what I was feeling.
I’m a pretty sensitive person and I am in touch with my emotions pretty quickly on things.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy feeling them.
I’ve been waiting to gather the strength to write this because I know it will stir up emotions all over again. But as a writer and as a granddaughter I know I have to do this.
Me with my Grandma & Grandpa
I don’t think I have ever felt so many emotions over the course of such a small amount of time.
Yet this past week has felt like it’s tested the length of time.
It’s felt longer than ever.
My grandma has suffered with Alzheimer’s for about 14 years.
And in that time, my family was around to see that kind of disease take over her life.
It’s a vortex of confusion, emotion, and time that seems to just stand still.
What day is it?
What time is it?
Who knows? Who cares?
I’ve mourned the loss of many, but this was the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with.
This is the first person in my life who is a direct connection to me and my immediate family.
My dad’s mom.
The pillar of strength that our family has rested upon for years.
The woman who is responsible for all the many family gatherings and the many family dinners.
With an illness like Alzheimer’s you know someone will not recover from it.
It’s an illness that takes many family members from many families.
Even though the loss is expected in some way, shape or form, you are never ready for it.
No matter how much you tell yourself what to expect. It’s never easy.
My grandma had been put on hospice care for the last few years, and even then we all I think still had hopes for more years to come.
Because she always kept going, birthday after birthday, year after year.
She is such a strong soul.
And she had such a dedicated caretaker in my aunt.
She always rounded whatever obstacle was standing in her way.
But even so, over the past month we were told she was suffering more and more seizures, she wasn’t eating and it would soon be her time.
Life is difficult.
We don’t always feel like we have time for everything.
And I know that families can sometimes become distant.
I know growing up has caused me to drift from certain people, but over the past few years my family and I have tried to rectify that.
We aren’t perfect, but we try our best.
It was never because of lack of love, it was just life being life and getting in the way.
I’m grateful for the time I do and did get to spend with my family.
We made it a point to be there for more holidays and visit more regularly. And I am so grateful for that.
My grandma passed away this past Tuesday.
I got the call that my parents knew it would soon be time for her, and they were leaving to go see her as I left work.
Immediately I was riddled with a feeling of anxiety and guilt.
I wanted to be there to support my family, but I didn’t want to witness her passing.
It was too much for me to handle.
So I went home and soon later I got the call that she passed. I had my moments of emotion- sadness, anger, relief.
I remember thinking I never want to go through this again.
I know death is apart of life and I’m catholic and I believe in the after life and that we will all one day be reunited with our loved ones, but the distance is cruel. There’s no stopping the roller coaster of emotions.
There was sadness for my family, especially my dad, my grandfather and all my aunts.
Anger at this disease that caused an eclipse over her life and robbed me of so many memories I could have had with my grandma. That was the hardest one I think. She was the only grandma I ever knew.
I was quite young when she began showing signs of having this illness. And then she suffered with it for 14 years. So if you do the math I’m 25. 25-14= 11.
I’m Hispanic- so my Brazilian roots are courtesy of her. And I am damn proud of that.
Christ the Redeemer Brazilian statue – Photo by: Robert DeSantos Jr.
I think all of her daughters and granddaughters can thank her for their curvy figures. 😉
Even though I was young, I remember certain things about her- how she would always be in the kitchen cooking something amazing.
Dishes like- Rice and beans, Pernil, and Cachupa.
Even her salad was ridiculous!
No one till this day can top it.
She also made the best flan, I have ever had!
I remember many New Year’s Eves of us kids running around with cups of flan in our hands.
Or drinking Malta, even though it was gross, I just thought it was “cool.”
Or sparkling cider, because we somehow thought we were fancy.
My grandpa always setting up a camera to catch our family memories.
I remember her refrigerator magnets and how she would rattle off to me in Portuguese and I would never really understand.
She was such a cute little Brazilian lady.
What got to me most was even though I remember those things, I couldn’t pin point a significant moment or conversation I had with her. Which broke my heart. I had many conversations with my mom about that feeling about why it made me so sad. And talking about it helps. I only hope that I hear more stories that will jog my memories. Because I know they are there.
As a kid I worried about running around and playing with my millions of cousins. You don’t worry about much else.
And that’s where the anger comes in, because now that I’m older I could have had more conversations and more moments with her, had this illness not taken over her smiling face.
The relief came a bit later when I realized that she is no longer suffering.
Selfishly I think we all wanted her to stay forever.
Even in her state, she was still there with us.
But she was no longer able to move, she couldn’t communicate, she wasn’t living.
At least not in the full sense of the word.
And I never would want that for her.
The day after she passed I wanted to go to work.
I figured that was the “adult” thing to do.
I’m trying so hard to push myself and be what I think an adult is supposed to be.
Which means doing things, even when I don’t want to.
That’s part of being an adult right?
Doing what you gotta do.
Services hadn’t been planned out yet and I needed to keep busy, otherwise that’s all I’d be thinking about.
I thought I could handle it.
But just a few short minutes into my work day, my emotions took over and it was evident.
I had wanted to just update my co-worker on why I had missed a day and what was going on to let them know I’d be out for the services coming up.
But just having to say the words brought on the tears.
I immediately felt embarrassed. But the level of comfort I received in that time and even now is something I didn’t expect and something I am very grateful for.
I haven’t known my co-workers too long, yet they were completely there for me, like a family.
And it made me feel better, and ok with the fact that I let my emotions show.
I think that’s important in life.
To learn that showing emotion, doesn’t make you weak.
We often think that vulnerability is a bad thing, that somehow people would think less of you, if you actually tell them, or show them what you are feeling.
Quite honestly I think it just makes you human. It makes you relatable.
I couldn’t have controlled the tears in that moment. And I’m learning that, that’s ok.
My co-workers weren’t judgmental they were helpful.
I gathered myself and continued my day- taught my lessons and all, and even with a red puffy face, I made it through ok.
That to me is a lesson I’ve learned within myself.
And I hope my experience can be a lesson to anyone who has tried to conceal their emotions and failed.
You are human.
And you can handle more than you think you can.
She said to herself, and to all of you.
Some people on the other hand are rocks, like my grandfather and my dad, and most of my uncles.
I was so worried about how my dad and all my family would take this and to see how they were somehow peaceful in such a sorrowful time, was something I was surprised to see.
I don’t think its void of emotion in any way, I can tell it effects them, I just think we all grieve in different ways.
I spoke more about how we all grieve differently in a recent post I wrote just before my grandma’s passing.
The services lasted two days.
And I can’t explain it.
It was sad, it was really really sad, but it was beautiful.
My family wanted it to be a celebration of her life.
Our Family Tree. This has since been removed by the city, but we have this pic to hold onto.
We were told that she never wanted dark colors at her funeral.
She loved the colors blue and yellow.
There were pictures of her life displayed around the room, flowers of beautiful colors, Brazilian music playing, home videos played on a screen above, and food downstairs for when you needed to refuel and calm the nerves.
My cousin made yellow flowered hair clips for the women and yellow flowered coat pins for the men.
She also made beautiful flower arrangements, one that spelt out Grandma and the other that was in the shape of a Brazilian flag.
We all gathered and loved each other through it all.
To the outsider it may have seemed like a weird experience. It may have even seemed disrespectful.
But to my family it was something so beautiful, to be surrounded by that much love.
What family member would want to see you cry over them and suffer in pain?
Celebration is how it really should be.
I think this experience was an eye opener on many levels.
Family from out of town traveled miles to get in; driving, flying, friends of family and extended family came to pay their respects.
My grandma brought out quite the crowd.
The day did not go on without its emotions.
The first hour was for immediate family, and it was quieter. I was able to keep calmer and more peaceful.
As more people came in and speeches of memories were told, the emotions came.
I was struck with a heavy chest and often times I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
It was a constant battle of remembering to take breaths in between the tears.
I don’t think the tears have ever fallen so freely down my face.
I was in fight or flight mode throughout the whole sermon and speeches.
But I suspect I wasn’t the only one, yet we all pushed through.
We’re stronger than we think we are.
The second day was an intense anticipation.
Everything had been leading up to the day of her burial.
Get dressed. Check.
Eat breakfast. Check.
Things that seem so regular, yet somehow felt foreign.
The fog that I had been in, that we had all been living in, would soon be fading, once we laid her to rest.
We experienced some less than generous people on the road, who cut in and out of our procession.
That’s New York for you I suppose.
But my heart was in my throat and blood was boiling.
That’s never something you want to experience during such a difficult time.
The lack of oxygen began and the worry for how my family will be during this final moment was nerve-wracking.
I was worried. I wanted and I prayed for everyone to get through this in love and support of each other, to just be healthy.
And I can’t explain- I’m sure you’ve noticed how that has been a theme throughout all of this-but the burial was peaceful and beautiful.
It was immediate family only, but even then it was a large crowd, my grandparents had 8 children together and between their kids and their kid’s kids, it was still a crew. The statistics show she has 35 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. And even though all weren’t there, most of us were. That to me is the definition of family, love and support. It figures grandma would be the one to bring all of us together, she always was. We huddled together through the cold, bundled in coats, hats, scarves and gloves, our boots covered in mud, and were just there for each other.
The tears came slightly, but it wasn’t overbearing like the day before.
Somehow there was a beauty in it.
Flowers were placed around her and her Brazilian flag was in place. I think we just finally realized she was home with God, and at peace, free of suffering. Something I feel my grandpa knew all along.
Guess we were all tardy to the party.
Back at my grandparents, and yes I still call it that right now, because that’s what it is- it was kind of standing room only.
If you saw a seat, you rushed to it. 😉
There was such a weird energy in the room.
It wasn’t bad, it was just strange.
I had been worried about walking into that house and the room in which my grandma used to be, I was worried I would lose it.
But we were all ok.
It was not your traditional funeral experience.
And I thank god for that.
This was a celebration of life.
Of grandma’s life.
We ate, we played music, we talked, and some danced.
It was joyful, but I think we all had our moments of somber.
Children ran around the room in joy.
It was a beautiful day of family reunion.
I had been conflicted a bit, was this ok?
Sometimes I would look over at my grandpa, still dressed in his full suit, and I wondered if he was ok with this.
In the older times, you wouldn’t dare play music, or watch TV.
But he never stopped the celebration.
I was also conflicted with taking pictures.
This isn’t something you necessarily want to remember or have images of.
But in that moment of celebration, after the tears had shed, after she had been laid to rest, there was a beauty that needed to be captured.
There was a reunion amongst a family.
I got to see cousins and aunts and uncles I haven’t seen since I was a kid.
I got to see how love can heal pain.
And I got to see how truly amazing my family is.
Not that I didn’t already know, but this was just a reaffirmation.
That even though times may change, and years can go by, we still gather in love and support during times of joy and sadness.
I know it’s strange and you may think of it wrong, but it was what my family needed.
I got to hear how my grandma actually lobbied for my name to be Michelle.
I got to have a nice moment with my grandpa who told me that I was his baby girl and that he loved all of his grandchildren so much.
I got to see all my aunts smile.
I got to laugh with my cousins.
I’ve never said hi and bye to same people quite so many times.
The hugs were on point. 😉
We took a much needed updated cousins photo.
We took many group photos and selfies with loved ones.
How could you not? When there is so much love in one home.
It’s all still fresh and I still feel like I’m slowly coming out of this time vortex, foggy, surreal experience.
As odd as it seems, the saying goes- life goes on.
And there are so many beautiful things to look forward to and celebrate.
Even now as I try to get back into the swing of things I think about it and it all still seems like a dream.
I feel like it’s not real.
And it makes me sad.
Sad to know she is no longer here, in person, on earth with us.
Sad to know that when I visit, she won’t be in her room.
But I think the best thing for all of us now, is to focus on the healing process.
We can’t go back, we can’t change anything.
But we know she was well loved and will continue to be loved. And her memory will live forever.
One of my little cousins said something that I think made the day just a bit sweeter, “I feel like, in some way, Grandma is here.”
And you know what I think she was.
We love you Grandma, Vai Com Deus. ❤
Her birthday celebration this past November- 83 Years Young *<3
A few years ago, back in college, I did my thesis project on my grandma. It was kind of like a day in the life documentary, and I wanted it to be an informational source for others dealing with such a trying illness.
I’ve written about the experience on this blog before.
My brother was my cameraperson and all around right hand man, and we completed something that I for one am really proud of. For those family members asking, you can find the trailer to my documentary in the link HERE. I was debating including this but people were asking who haven’t seen it, and my hope is not for it to make you sad, but to comfort you, to know after all the suffering, she is now at peace.